Educator How-To: Make a compass with a fish. A fish? Yes, a fish.

Two thousand years ago, the compass — as we know it — was in its infancy. The Chinese made primitive compasses by carving a piece of lodestone (a naturally occurring magnetic iron-ore) into the shape of a ladle to represent the Great Bear constellation (we know this portion as the Big Dipper).  The finished ladle was then placed on a highly polished surface, where the larger end, or bowl, was attracted to magnetic north — causing the handle to point south.

The compass was eventually introduced to the west from China via Arab traders.  The Chinese possessed this important technology for more than a thousand years before the Europeans learned of it.

compass-01

During the Middle Ages, the Chinese set up several factories to produce compasses. One of the compasses produced was in the shape of a fish cut from a very thin leaf of iron — so thin that it could float on water by taking advantage of surface tension. The fish was then stroked against a lodestone until it was magnetized. When placed in the water, it would turn until its head pointed south and its tail pointed north.

Try your hand at making this south-pointing fish:

Materials:

Fish template
Pen (black Sharpie works well)
Permanent markers in bright colors
Scissors
Strong magnets
Large gauge metal yarn needle
Styrofoam meat tray (or any other flat piece of Styrofoam)
Large bowl
Water

Procedure:

  1. Tell the class the story about the Chinese being among the first to have compass technology.
  2. Explain that, in medieval China, a device known as the “south-pointing” fish was invented.
  3. Now tell students to get ready to make their own “south-pointing” fish!
  4. Using the template below, trace a fish onto a piece of Styrofoam and then cut it out.
  5. Use permanent markers to decorate your fish.
  6. Fill a large bowl with water.
  7. Place your fish into the water.
  8. Magnetize your needle by pulling it straight across the magnet several times or more, depending on the strength of your magnet.
  9. Figure out which way to place your needle on top of the fish so the fish’s head will point south.

fish

Congratulations! You’ve made a Nemo that can find its own way.

Those who can, teach: Tracking the Painted Lady life cycle with pasta

Hey there, today marks another installment of my handy how-to’s for educators.

This particular activity is awesome when paired with observing Painted Lady butterflies grow and change in your classroom.  It’s a visually appealing model that represents a unique hands-on opportunity to record the stages in the life cycle of organisms in their natural environment — using inexpensive materials and items gathered from outdoors.

caterpillar

Photo by squeakychu

What You’ll Need:

From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman (very basic)
The Lifecycles of Butterflies by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards (more detailed)
Light blue construction paper cut into 3 x 18-inch (8 x 35-cm) strips – one strip per child
Rotini pasta – one piece per child
Bowtie pasta – one piece per child
Mini shell pasta – one piece per child
Orzo pasta (rice also works well) – one piece per child
Small twigs or brown craft stems cut into 3-inch strips – three per child
Fresh leaves or leaves cut from construction paper– two per child
Wildflower or flower sticker – one per child
Washable markers
Liquid water color paint in green and another color of your choice
Scissors
School glue

Kat-Caterpillar to Butterfly

What You Do:

1.    Cut construction paper into strips; one per child.
2.    Color rotini pasta and mini-shell pasta green by placing pasta in a baggie with green liquid water color and shaking gently.  Spread out and allow the pasta to dry.
3.    Color bowtie pasta a bright color of your choice in the same manner.

Next:

1.    Read:  From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman aloud to the class. This story is about a Painted Lady Butterfly raised in a classroom. Painted Lady Butterfly Kits are available in the Houston Museum of Natural Science Museum Store (use your educator’s discount!).  Live specimens will ship to you after you mail in the card contained in the kit — allow time for this.
2.    Take your class on a short field trip in the green areas on school grounds.
3.    Each child will collect three small sticks and two fresh leaves.  (Keep in mind that it is a good idea to check with school administrators to verify that collecting on school grounds is permissible.)
4.    Each child will fold a strip of light blue construction paper into four equal sections, creasing well.
5.    In the first section, a stick and a leaf are glued into the square, as if it were a leaf hanging from the stick.  Glue a single piece of orzo atop the leaf.  What does the orzo represent?
6.    Glue a stick and leaf in a similar way in the second square. Glue a piece of green rotini pasta to the top of the leaf.  What does this represent?
7.    In the third square, a stick should be glued with one mini-shell pasta hanging straight from the middle.  What does this represent?
8.    In the last square, a flower or flower sticker will be glued, along with the colorful piece of bowtie pasta.  What does the bowtie pasta represent?  Why do we have the flower in this square?
9.    Label each section as follows:  EGG, CATERPILLAR, CHRYSALIS, and BUTTERFLY.  They must be labeled in this order.
10.    Have children practice presenting the butterfly life cycle to one another using the project that was created.

Cockrell Butterfly Center

Questions to expand those  kiddie minds:

Why did you glue the “egg” and the “caterpillar” to the leaves?
Why did you glue the “chrysalis” to the stick?
Why was there a flower with our butterfly?
How many stages are there in the butterfly’s life cycle?
How is your life cycle similar to the life cycle of a butterfly?  How is it different?
Name other life cycles you observe around you.

Enjoy!

Dead Man’s Party – Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos artwork by one of our hmns bloggers!

Halloween is this Saturday and everyone is scrambling to put together their costumes and figuring out what parties to go to Friday and Saturday. But what are your plans for Dia de los Muertos on November 2nd!?

The education department here at HMNS offered an encore event to last year’s very popular Dia de los Muertos Educator Overnight and teachers came from all over the greater Houston area to learn about this incredible holiday and how to do some activities with their own students so that they may learn more about the culture. If you want to learn how to make sugar skulls check out this guide online – it has some great tips on how to make some incredible shaped sugar treasures!

Above you’ll see an artwork that references La Calavera Catrina, an etching done by Mexican printmaker Jose Guadelupe Posada in 1913. La Catrina and some of Posada’s other artwork is reproduced and can be seen around town available on book bags, t-shirts and in jewelry – especially around Dia de los Muertos. This piece pictured here is composed completely out of dyed eggshells by one of our very own hmns bloggers!

Below are some of the fun hands on activities and projects the teachers did at the Overnight this year and don’t worry – we’re already thinking up some cool ideas for “Dia de los Muertos II – the Overnight Sequel for Educators” – next October! Drop me a line if you want to receive notice when we start accepting registrations for this Overnight in 2010 – overnights@hmns.org.

Decorating sugar skulls
Decorating sugar skulls
Calacas puppet in progress
Calacas puppet in progress
Cigar box altar
Cigar box altar
This tiny clay skull is perfect for a tiny cigar box altar table!
This tiny clay skull
is perfect for a tiny cigar box altar table!
Completed sugar skulls!
Completed sugar skulls!